How the Horror Got His Horse
Just outside the village stood a little house, which children never dared to pass. Each year, the walls and window frames were painted red with horses’ blood. In that terrible house lived the Horror. The children from the village were even more afraid of the Horror than of the little house. When they saw him approach, they ran from him.
He drove around across the Veluwe in a dogcart and everyone knew him, even the king, but I shall speak of that later.
He was a short fellow with sore eyes and a dirty, reddish beard. He came wherever there was a dead horse to be had, and then he would carry it off in his dogcart to his house. Some called him the horse knacker, but he was usually called the Horror or the Skinner.
Now don’t assume that a man like that and such a house are merely material for stories, because I used to know him, and I have seen his house. I was very afraid of him and I always took the long way round to avoid having to pass his house.
Once, when the king was passing on the Amersfoort’s road, at full speed in his carriage drawn by four horses as usual, it so happened that the Horror was driving ahead of him in his dogcart. The first jockey whistled to let the Horror know that he had to move aside, but he turned around and called out: ‘I’ll let the people in Apeldoorn know you’re on your way.’
‘What did the man say?’ called the king to his jockeys.
At first they daren’t answer, but when the king repeated his question more loudly, the jockey who rode behind said: ‘That man in the dogcart won’t get off the road and says, that he’ll let the people in Apeldoorn know you’re coming.’
Vexed about the impertinent remark of the driver of the dogcart, the king gave out an order to overtake the brazen boaster.
The jockeys spurred on the horses and it turned into a mad race, but in that contest, the Horror with his dogs was the one who led. No matter how the king, standing up in his carriage, shouted out encouragements to drive faster, it didn’t help him. The Horror was ahead and stayed ahead, and in his dogcart he was the first to enter the town and call: ‘Make way! Make way! The king is coming, the king is coming!’
But, on the following day the Horror was summoned to the palace. He didn’t like that at all, and he wished he hadn’t pulled that prank. ‘Now I’ll pay for it,’ he thought.
Wearing his Sunday best and his new clogs, he went to the palace with a pounding heart, and it took a long time before he announced himself there.
To his inexpressible surprise, the king received him very kindly, complimented him on his dogs, with which he could drive faster than his jockeys could with four horses, thanked him for the lesson that he had taught them, and gave him twenty-five guilders as a reward.
When the Horror came back outside, he could hardly realise what had happened. He was so dismayed, that it took him at least fifteen minutes to get his speech back, and if he hadn’t felt the twenty-five guilders so securely in his hand, he would’ve thought himself very confused.
All this is just to show you how the Horror could race his dogs and how that even led him to visit the king. It really hasn’t got much to do with the actual tale of how he acquired his horse. And that horse definitely did not prove itself to be a faster means of transport.
The Burning House
Somewhere near Lieren, or it could have been another village, but I seem to recall it was Lieren, stood another little house. There, a warlock and exorcist lived. People said he possessed immense wealth, but he lived there all alone in that little house, the lichen-covered walls of which were so ramshackle, that it had to be supported by pine trunks. On the old thatched roof grass and oats grew among thick cushions of moss and great clumps of houseleek. Curtains of spider webs hung down from the rafters of the attic and in front of the bed-box.
The warlock was a wise man. He knew many cures for ill or bewitched cattle, which he kept in bottles and jars under the bed-box, and which were made with deadly nightshade, witches’ herb, devil’s eggs, ladies’ kisses and toads and snakes boiled to a pulp. He could also exorcise humans and he drove the fever away with the spell:
‘Good morning, oldie
I give you the cold
I give you the cold
Good morning, oldie’
Then the fever would depart. Daily, people from all over, even from far-away villages, came to him for help.
Late one afternoon a small farmer came to the warlock with a sick horse. The exorcist looked the horse over and after having looked into its eyes he said: ‘This horse has been hexed. I can’t cure that before midnight tonight. If you’ll leave it here, you can come and pick the animal up first thing tomorrow.’
‘No,’ said the farmer, ‘I don’t feel like doing that, because I saw a sight1 just before I left home. I could clearly see your house go up in flames; frankly, I was surprised to find it was still here. But burn it will, to be sure. Do you think I’d be such a fool as to leave the horse here?’
‘It’s not said that your vision will come true tonight. It could stay away for months yet,’ spoke the warlock. ‘And you can’t just take that horse back home with you, you’ll have much ado with it, that’s for sure. We could leave it here in the shed. Have you seen the shed burn too?’
‘No, I haven’t seen that. I only saw the house burn.’
‘Well, let’s put the horse in the shed then.’
The farmer finally consented and in silence they led the horse into the shed. Neither of them said a word, but they were both thinking of the same thing.
‘I thank you for telling me,’ the exorcist said at last. ‘I’ll make sure I’ll avert that bad luck, and be especially careful with fire.’
‘That’ll make no difference, you know that. Everything you do to prevent it will only help the fire to start.’
Again both men were silent for a while. ‘Still, I’ll manage to banish it.’
‘You can try, if it won’t help, it’ll do no harm either.’
By this time they’d tied down the horse and given it some hay. The animal sniffed it, but wouldn’t eat.
‘Would you believe he can smell the fire,’ said the farmer.
‘It could be because he’s bewitched. Would he eat at home?’
‘Oh yes, that’s not it.’
‘Well, I’ll fix him,’ said the exorcist, ‘just come and get him in the morning.’
‘All the best,’ answered the farmer, and he made his way home.
It was a dark moonless night. In the house of the warlock, where there was rarely a light burning, it was completely dark. The only window, next to the door, was as dim as a blind eye. Already the inhabitant had been asleep for several hours. After dusk the darkness had come creeping towards the little house and now held it tightly in its grasp.
The little house stood helpless in the vast wasteland. It must’ve been about eleven o’clock when two men with blackened faces carefully came from behind and elder bush and crept towards the back of the house, where the roof was so low and ramshackle that they could easily pass through. They spent more than an hour inside, and none of the ghastly things that happened in there could be discerned from outside. The window stared blind and senseless into the night. The house looked as if abandoned. The bandits left through the same opening they had used to enter the house. But now they carried bags full of rix dollars. Then they went to the shed, searched it and found the bewitched horse standing in the back, which they untied and took with them. All this was done calmly, as if the was the most normal thing in the world.
‘But wait. We’d best set the old hovel on fire now,’ said one, ‘otherwise they’ll find the old skinflint with his throat cut tomorrow and then they’ll hunt for us. If we burn the mess, it’ll appear as if he died during the accident and no one will pay it any heed.’
While the one held the horse, the other climbed back inside.
For a moment, a weak glow could be discerned behind the dull, blind window. Now it was the shed’s turn; but suddenly they thought they heard the sound of footsteps in the distance and they hurriedly left by a back road to reach the main street, without setting the shed alight.
By the time they reached it and looked around, they could see the flames leaping up high from the thatched roof. The humid skies and the entire area were lit by a pinkish glow. The neighbours didn’t seem to notice; all around remained quiet.
One went in front and led the horse by the bridle, the other walked behind to drive the poor creature with his stick, in case it should threaten to fall down by the side of the road. In that manner they walked on for several hours. Finally, the horse couldn’t go on, and fell. No matter how the bandits cursed, hit and kicked, the horse remained lying in the middle of the road.
Day began to dawn and when the two men saw each other’s blackened faces and blood stained hands in the twilight, the one said to the other: ‘Let’s leave the dead horse here and wash ourselves in yonder plashe2, otherwise they might catch us in the early hours.’
They had just finished washing and were still standing by the water, when one of the two called out: “There’s a dogcart coming, let’s hurry into the forest.’
‘Are you mad, it’s the Horror, we can sell him the horse, then it’ll have been of some use, after all.’
‘I can’t believe that old hack is dead, it’s just bewitched.’
The Horror had already jumped down from the cart and was looking at and touching the horse. ‘What will you give for him?’ one of the men called out to him.
‘Does that horse belong to you lot?’
‘Ay, of course, what did you think? That beast has gone and dropped dead here, it was already unwell when we left home. What’s it worth to you?’
The skinner peered at the men from between his red-rimmed eyelids. ‘Ten stiver I’ll give you, no more, and then I hope I shan’t hang for it and have trouble.’
‘That’s shamefully little.’
‘Well, how much were you expecting?’
‘One guilder and not a cent more.’
‘Well alright, good luck with it, we shan’t haggle too long. It’s no use to us anyhow.’
While they helped him drag the animal into the dogcart, they thought they saw it breathe. The skinner paid, covered the horse with sacking and turned around.
‘Hey, tell us,’ said one of the bandits before he drove off, ‘Do you know who we are?’
‘No,’ said the Horror, and laughed. ‘It’s none of my business, anyway.’
‘That’s just as well,’ said the other.
The Horror cheerily drove away and the two men disappeared into the forest.
When the farmer came back the next day to fetch his horse, he found the smoking ruins and smouldering wood. Some neighbours were searching and rummaging through the debris when they at last found the charred body in the burned bed-box among the smouldering charcoal. ‘How one can wrongly judge a person,’ said one of the neighbours. ‘Everyone thought he was a wealthy miser, and we haven’t found a cent.’
‘He must’ve buried it,’ said another. There were those, who continued forking over and digging through the rubble all day.
The shed had been spared by the fire, but the little door stood open. The first thing the farmer did was enter the shed, but his horse was gone. No matter how he asked around, no one had seen his horse.
‘You can safely count on it, that the evil one set the place alight and took both the warlock and your horse.’
And when the farmer told them that the animal had been bewitched and that he had, only the previous day, on his way to the warlock, seen the house burn in his premonition, he was much blamed for being stupid enough to leave the horse in spite of the warning. Saddened, the farmer left, after having searched the entire area.
Whether it was the same horse, I daren’t guarantee, but a short time after this, the Horror wasn’t driving around with his dogs anymore, but with a skinny, red-haired old hack, of which people said it had been an enchanted dead horse, which the Horror had brought back to life by blowing wind into its nostrils. Well, it must have been so, as one couldn’t do such gruesome work with a good horse. This horse walked stiff-legged and always appeared to be trotting, but without ever making much way. And when the king approached, the Horror reverently stopped at the side of the road and politely removed his cap.
From Legends of the Veluwe/Veluwsche Sagen by Gust van de Wall Perné, published in 1910-1912 by Scheltens & Giltay and translated by Eva Weggelaar
1. Sight, a vision of something that will happen in the future.
2. Plashe or plash, the small pools of water such as one can find on heath and moor.